Background: HIPK2 (homeodomain-interacting protein kinase 2) has been identified as a nuclear serine/threonine kinase. A central function of HIPK2 is repressing transcription of homeodomain containing transcription factors.
Results and conclusions: We show here that HIPK2 activates transcription mediated by tumor suppressor p53 responsive promoter elements. Overexpression of HIPK2 leads to an increase of p53 protein expression or stability, which becomes enhanced further in the presence of the DNA damaging drug doxorubicin. The effects of HIPK2 on p53 are not observed with kinase deficient HIPK2 mutants. However, HIPK2 is not sufficient for phosphorylation of three crucial serine residues of p53, suggesting that HIPK2-induced p53 activation does not involve phosphorylation of p53. Instead, HIPK2 leads to a downregulation of p53-induced Mdm2 protein and this may lead to stabilization of p53. Overexpression of HIPK2 does not lead to a change of Mdm2 mRNA expression. The data suggest that HIPK2 plays a critical role in p53 mediated cellular responses by removing the p53 inhibitor protein Mdm2 via modification of the protein itself or its intracellular movement.